I’ve hesitated to weigh in on the debate about The Feminine Mistake, the latest “mommy guilt” book, but I can hold my tongue no longer.
Even though I haven’t read it myself (yet), I have read several thorough reviews of the book and I think I can safely summarize one of the author’s key points that I have just a TEENSY little problem with — “opting out” is our fault.
Women leaving the workplace to be at home with the kids because of the difficulties balancing professional careers and raising a family and the stuff of life is apparently our own damn fault.
Leslie Bennetts seems to believe that women would not leave their jobs if we really focused on how that could possibly jeopardize our long-term financial stability. Looks like we’ll only have ourselves to blame if we can’t jump back into the workforce when we’re done raising our children (even if it’s just a couple of years) or when our husbands leave us for the trophy wives.
Don’t get me wrong. It sounds like Bennetts makes some good points about why women should give serious consideration to their own financial independence, and what happens to women financially when families split up after a divorce. But something is wrong with the assumptions of the conversation — the mistaken assumption that women leave their jobs and careers to be the family caregiver because it’s always their free choice. Most of the arguments out there presume that women are choosing to stay home with the rugrats because that’s their new, first choice and happily skip away from the Blackberries, the daytimers and the salaries that support the Manolo addictions.
Many mothers leave their professions because the current male construct of the workplace doesn’t give an inch to promote anyone who doesn’t follow the rules that have been in place since the Cleavers were on the black-and-white TV.
It’s the workplace itself that is forcing women to make the “choice” to “opt out” because the office won’t accommodate the idea of a professional woman being dedicated to a job AND to family at the same time.
We didn’t opt — we were pushed.
If working mothers got the same pat on the back that working dads get if they head out early for the soccer game or a child’s doctor appointment, I can guarantee there would be fewer moms making the “choice” that Bennetts is so agitated about. When the plum assignments and promotion opportunities come our way in our pre-kidlet lives, but dry up after maternity leave, that’s a pretty good sign that our time is better spent elsewhere.
There’s really no need to add to our list of things that makes mothers feel guilty. While Bennetts creates an important discussion about taking responsibility for our own financial welfare, let’s put the guilt where it belongs — on the workplaces that refuse to change, that are still run by our fathers’ generation, the ones who, at least on a subconsious level, hold back the most challenging assignments, mentoring and chances for advancement when we add “mom” to our skill portfolio.
Without those carrots, what’s the upside to the complicated dance called work/life balance?